The Daily Brew: Breaking down the battlegrounds: The hottest races on the ballot this November

Welcome to the Wednesday, September 22, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Previewing this year’s battleground elections
  2. Your help is needed today
  3. Three state legislative special elections have already been scheduled for 2022

Previewing this year’s battleground elections

Election Day 2021 is less than six weeks away! In yesterday’s edition, we looked at the 999 elections within Ballotpedia’s coverage scope taking place on Nov. 2, 2021. Today, we’re focusing on the 25 elections we’ve designated as battlegrounds.

Ballotpedia designates elections that we expect will have a meaningful effect on the balance of political power as battlegrounds. Few elections have more potential to make a difference in the balance of power in state government than those for trifecta offices. A state government trifecta occurs when the governor’s party also controls majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. This year, we’ve identified three elections for trifecta office as battlegrounds:

Governor of Virginia: Virginia’s unique constitutional prohibition on governors serving back-to-back terms means there is never an incumbent on the ballot. Democrats have held a trifecta in Virginia since winning a majority in both chambers of the state legislature in 2019. Between 1977 and 2009, the party that lost the previous year’s presidential election won the Virginia gubernatorial election. This trend was broken when Terry McAuliffe (D) was elected governor in 2013, the year after Barack Obama (D) was re-elected president.

This year, McAuliffe, Glenn Youngkin (R), Princess Blanding (Liberation), and Paul Davis (I) are in the running. A win for McAuliffe would preserve Virginia’s Democratic trifecta if the party also maintains their legislative majority and a win for Youngkin would break it regardless of the legislative election results. Two election forecasting agencies say the race leans towards McAuliffe and a third says he is likely to win.

Virginia House of Delegates: All 100 seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates are also up this year. Democrats hold a 55-45 majority, making this the first election year since 1999 when Virginia Democrats are defending a state house majority. The party that won the previous year’s presidential election has lost seats in five of the seven post-presidential election years since 1993.

In 2019, Democrats flipped six seats to win control of the chamber, which had been under a 51-49 Republican majority. In the 2017 election, Democrats flipped 15 seats, with control of the chamber coming down to a drawing of straws

If Republicans win a majority this year, they will break the Democratic trifecta regardless of the results of the gubernatorial election. If Democrats maintain their majority and win the gubernatorial election, they will preserve their trifecta. No seats are up in the Virginia State Senate.

Governor of New Jersey: Incumbent Phil Murphy (D), Jack Ciattarelli (R), Madelyn Hoffman (G), Gregg Mele (L), and Joanne Kuniansky (Socialist Workers) are running for governor of New Jersey. Although New Jersey is holding elections for both chambers of the state legislature, Democrats are expected to maintain their majorities, meaning New Jersey’s trifecta status will likely come down to the gubernatorial election.

Murphy was first elected in 2017, defeating Kim Guadagno (R) 56.0% to 41.9%. Two election forecasters say the race is solidly in Murphy’s column, while a third says Murphy is likely to win. No Democrat has been re-elected as governor of New Jersey since Brendan Byrne (D) in 1977.

Our selection of political battlegrounds is not limited to trifecta offices; here’s a selection of some of the other races we’ll be following this November:

Pennsylvania Supreme Court: One of the seven seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is up for election this year. Pennsylvania State Supreme Court justices are elected in partisan elections. Currently, five members of the court were elected as Democrats, one was elected as a Republican, and one was appointed by a Democratic governor. 

The position up for election is currently held by Chief Justice Thomas Saylor (R), who will retire on Dec. 31 after reaching the mandatory retirement age. Maria McLaughlin (D) and Kevin Brobson (R) will be on the ballot for a 10-year term.

Mayor of Boston: Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George are running in the nonpartisan election for mayor of Boston. Political observers describe the conflict between the two, both members of the city council, as ideological, with Wu running as a progressive and Essaibi George as a moderate. The winner will become the first woman and the first person of color to be elected mayor of Boston.

Seattle city attorney: Ann Davison and Nicole Thomas-Kennedy are in the running for this office after incumbent Pete Holmes was eliminated in the nonpartisan primary. Both have pledged to change course from Holmes’ approach to law enforcement.

Davison, who ran as a Republican for lieutenant governor in 2020, said she would step up the city’s law enforcement efforts and prosecute more offenses. Thomas-Kennedy said she would put an end to the prosecution of misdemeanors, saying these crimes were often committed by individuals facing other social problems such as poverty and addiction.

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Your help is needed today

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Three state legislative special elections have already been scheduled for 2022

Election Day 2021 may be just around the corner, but the special election calendar never stops. Ballotpedia is tracking three state legislative special elections that have already been called for 2022.

The three elections include two in Alabama and one in Massachusetts. Two are for Democrat-held seats and one is for a Republican-held seat. Here’s more on each:

Massachusetts (Jan. 11): A special general election will be held on Jan. 11, following a primary scheduled for Dec. 14, 2021, to fill the vacancy opened when state Sen. Joseph Boncore (D) resigned to take a job in the private sector. The First Suffolk & Middlesex District last had a contested general election in 2012. That year, incumbent Anthony Petruccelli (D) defeated Thomas Dooley, III (R) 81.6% to 18.4%. No candidates have filed yet.

Alabama (Feb. 1): A special general election will be held on Feb. 1 to fill the vacancy opened when state Rep. Bill Poole (R) resigned to take office as director of the Alabama Department of Finance. Alabama’s 63rd state house district last had a contested general election in 2010. That year, Poole defeated Susan Pace Hamill (D) 63.8% to 36.2%. The only candidate to file so far for the special election is Cynthia Almond (R), although minor party and independent candidates have until Oct. 19.

Alabama (March 1): Alabama’s second special state legislative election of the year will take place March 1 to fill the vacancy opened by the death of state Rep. Thad McClammy (D). Alabama’s 76th state house district has not had a contested general election since at least 2006. The only major party candidate to file was McClammy’s daughter Patrice McClammy (D). Minor party and independent candidates have until Nov. 16 to file.

So far in 2021, 64 state legislative elections have either taken place or been scheduled for later this year. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 state legislative special elections took place each year. A plurality of this year’s elections (27) were called after the incumbent resigned to either take a different elected or appointed office or to run for a different office.

Of the elections that have taken place so far this year, two resulted in partisan control of the seat changing. Democrats picked up a seat from Republicans in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, while Republicans gained a seat from Democrats in the Connecticut State Senate.

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